The Biggest Mistake To Avoid When Using A Double Boiler

If you've ever whipped up a pastry cream, sabayon, lemon curd, or Hollandaise sauce, then you've likely made use of a double boiler. Often sold as a set, with a straight-sided saucepan on the bottom and a smaller one on top that nestles into the pot below, a double boiler is used by filling the pot below with a few inches of water and setting it on the stovetop, where the steam created is used to gently cook the ingredients you've placed in the smaller pot above (via Kitchn). As explained by Kitchn, the indirect heat provided by the steam is a way to cook or heat ingredients prone to separating: Chocolate, for example, is often melted in a double boiler to keep the cocoa butter from separating from the solids, and the sauces and puddings mentioned above can be cooked in a double boiler to help keep the eggs in those recipes from scrambling in too-high heat.

For those of us who don't want to buy a specialized double boiler set, it's easy enough to rig one up at home simply by placing a stainless steel or glass mixing bowl above a medium-sized pot, according to Bon Appétit. But, whether you're using a commercial double boiler set or DIY'ing one yourself, there's one common mistake you're going to want to avoid.

Don't let the top pot touch the water in the bottom pot

The next time you decide to temper some chocolate or stir together a pastry cream, you'll likely reach for your double boiler, whose indirect steam heat is a great way to cook or melt delicate ingredients that can tend to separate over direct heat. But, when you set up your double boiler, make sure to fill the bottom pot with only about two inches of water, a quantity that can be sustained over a long simmer without evaporating and leaving the bottom pot dry.

According to KitchenSeer, you want to be careful not to overfill the bottom pot, because if you do, the top part of your double boiler will touch the water in the bottom, making the heat direct and completely negating the whole idea of using a double boiler in the first place. Direct heat will be too hot for the ingredients up top, and you'll risk scorching your chocolate or scrambling the eggs in your pastry cream.